Tag Archives: Adam Driver

Sounds of ‘Silence’

Martin Scorsese’s epic new drama looks for God, not gangsters

Liam Neeson plays a 17th century Portuguese priest on a difficult mission in 'Silence.'

Liam Neeson plays a 17th century Portuguese priest on a difficult mission in ‘Silence.’

Silence
Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver & Liam Neeson
Directed by Martin Scorsese
R
In wide release Jan. 13, 2017

The director best known for hoods, gangsters and thugs turns his eyes to God in this epic tale of two Catholic priests who face persecution and death as they travel to Japan in the 17th century to spread their Christian faith.

Martin Scorsese, the cinematic maestro whose iconic work includes Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, Gangs of New York, The Departed and The Wolf of Wall Street, transforms the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo into a sprawling historical drama about faith, centered on God’s “silence” in the face of human suffering.

In the movie, two young Portuguese priests, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) set sail across the globe to Japan to seek their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). In the Land of the Rising Sun, Christianity has been outlawed, Ferreira is missing and there are rumors that he’s dead—or worse, that he’s renounced his faith, or apostatized, and become a Buddhist monk.

Adam Driver & Andrew Garfield

Adam Driver & Andrew Garfield

And in Japan, talk about a “war on Christians”: Local villagers are rounded up and subjected to various heinous tortures if they do not publicly disown their faith—crucified in the ocean, burned alive, beheaded, scalded with hot water, hung upside down and slowly bled to death.

When a missionary priest is captured, he’s forced to watch the torture until—unless—he will apostatize and publically denounce and deface his God.

For Rodrigues and Garrpe, this is no exotic Japanese vacation—it’s some 350 years before Disneyland Tokyo, BTW—and they are the only two Catholic priests on the whole island. How far, and how long, can they spread the seeds of their faith without being caught? Can they find out what happened to Father Ferreira? Can they come to understand why a benevolent, loving God continues to let Christians suffer, if holding on to faith is worth all the terrible pain it causes—or if God is even listening at all to their prayers?

These are big, unwieldy questions, and Scorsese tackles them head-on. Silence is a big, sometimes unwieldy movie. It’s two hours and 40 minutes long. Its majestic cinematic scope, grand scale and thorny theological themes will probably put it out of the mainstream, at least for a lot of viewers, down at the multiplex. And it doesn’t have one single note of music, even on the opening or closing credits; it begins and ends with the sounds of nature, a symphony of crickets and frogs.

But it looks gorgeous. Working with cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, his collaborator on Gangs of New York and Casino, and Oscar-winning production designer Dante Ferretti (Hugo, The Aviator, Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street), Scorsese depicts Japan as a lush, sprawling wonderland. Even the film’s horrors have a savage, artful beauty, like modern-day movie paintings of Christian martyrs rendered on the big screen.

SILENCEAndrew Garfield is having a great run, coming off director Mel Gibson’s critically acclaimed Hacksaw Ridge and now right into this role, making a back-to-back pair of exceptionally strong performances that show his depth and range. Adam Driver continues to impress, and I was disappointed when his character was dismissed halfway through the movie to go his separate way. He’s a much more interesting actor than Garfield, but Garfield has better hair, so hey, I get it.

But one of the movie’s most memorable performances comes from Asian TV veteran Issey Ogata. As the ominously nicknamed Japanese “Inqisitor,” Inoue Massashige, he gives forceful pushback to Rodrigues and his message of Christian evangelism. By turns sinister and menacing, comical and humorous, and sympathetic and pragmatic, he’s one of the film’s most compelling, complex and pivotal characters.

“Am I just praying to nothing, because you are not there?” Rodrigues, near madness, asks God at one point. It’s one of the questions that ring deep and long in the powerful, potently quiet spaces of Silence, long after the last cricket chirp has faded away.

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Not So Far, Far Away Anymore

‘Star Wars’ comes roaring and soaring back in ‘The Force Awakens’

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Issac

Directed by J.J. Abrams

PG-13

Deep into the most anticipated movie of the year, two central characters—one old, one new—are on a desperate mission and in a very tight spot.

“People are counting on us,” veteran smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) growls. “The galaxy is counting on us.”

That pretty much sums up the lofty expectations placed on the movie, as well. The first new Star Wars film in nearly a decade, the seventh in the franchise, and the first since Disney bought the rights from founding father-director-creator George Lucas, it comes cloaked in secrecy and with a mothership of baggage. Diehard fans have been waiting for it for years. Speculation has been building for months. What will J.J. Abrams, the director of two Star Trek movies, bring to it—or do to it? It’s expected to be the biggest box-office moneymaker of the year, if not the decade, and maybe of all time.

So people—and perhaps the whole the galaxy—are indeed counting on this new Star Wars, and I don’t think they’ll be disappointed. It’s got everything any fan could want: powerful nostalgia, exciting new characters, rousing action, stirring emotion, spectacular scenery, eye-popping effects, and a plot that threads things that happened decades ago with things unfolding now—and points to things yet to come.

Harrison Ford as Han Solo

Harrison Ford as Han Solo

You probably already know that several iconic actors return. Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is still the coolest space cowboy of all time. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) has become a general. And Jedi legend Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)…well, everybody spends most of the movie looking for Luke, and so will you.

You’ll delight in seeing some very familiar other things again—X-Wings and TIE Fighters, the Millennium Falcon, two particular droids, a tall, hirsute biped and one very special light saber, in particular. And you’ll hear a couple of familiar phrases, too.

And there are some very impressive newcomers, as well. British actress is Daisy Ridley is terrific as Rey, a spunky junk scavenger on a desert planet who becomes a major player on a much larger stage—and provides young female Star Wars fans a rockin’ role model the likes of which they’ve never had before. Newcomer John Boyega makes a fine leading man as Finn, a stormtrooper who defects when his conscience won’t let him continue to fight for a cause he knows is wrong. Oscar Issac plays Poe Dameron, the cocky top-gun pilot of the Resistance.

Oscar Issac is Resistance          pilot Poe Dameron

Adam Driver is Kylo Ren, a disciple of Darth Vader, whose formidable powers were shaped by a treacherous past. Domhnall Gleeson drips evil as the fascist intergalactic general Hux. Lupita Nyong’o is cool but completely unrecognizable as the alien proprietress of a way-out-there interplanetary saloon frequented by a spectrum of crazy cosmic characters.

And the new little bleeping, beeping, cooing, purring “snowman” of a robot, BB-8, is a real scene-stealer.

With composer John Williams’ spectacular, swelling orchestral score once again providing the soundtrack, Star Wars has come roaring and soaring back, a fabulous, bountiful, richly rewarding payoff for anyone who’s been waiting, patiently or otherwise. You’ll cheer, you’ll chuckle, you’ll gasp, you’ll be giddy and you’ll maybe—likely—even shed a tear, or possibly two.

And come next December, when Disney’s eighth installment, Rogue One, hits theaters, you’ll be back in the ticket line again—won’t you?

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Young at Heart

Bittersweet Ben Stiller comedy explores growing up, growing older

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While We’re Young

Starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried

Directed by Noah Baumbach

R

The search for the fountain of youth, both literally and figuratively, has captivated imaginations for centuries. Who hasn’t dreamed of turning back the hands of time?

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Naomi Watts & Ben Stiller

In the latest movie comedy from indie-favorite writer-director Noah Baumbach, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play Josh and Cornelia, a childless New York husband and wife in their forties who find themselves out of the loop with their friends, whose lives now revolve around new babies and toddlers. But they’re suddenly rejuvenated—as if spritzed by the mythical fountain—when they intersect with a couple of twenty-something hipsters, Jamie and Darby, played by Adam Driver (from the HBO series Girls) and Amanda Seyfried, who remind them of all the things they used to be.

At Jamie and Darby’s intoxicatingly funky digs, Josh and Cornelia swoon over their new friends’ retro-iffic love of old vinyl records, classic board games, VHS tapes, vintage fashion and manual typewriters. “It’s like…everything we once threw out,” Cornelia gushes. “But it looks so good they way they have it!”

Jamie, it turns out, is also a documentary filmmaker, like Josh—although Josh has been struggling with one movie for the past seven years, unable to complete it. Jamie strokes Josh’s frail, needy ego; Josh falls under the spell of Jamie’s freewheeling, youthful energy—and, at least for a while, how everything seems to work out so easily for him.

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Amanda Seyfried

When Josh and Jamie collaborate on a new project, and Cornelia’s father (Charles Grodin)—an esteemed documentary filmmaker himself—gets involved, things get complicated. The couples’ relationships begin to unravel; jealousies and suspicions arise. Is Jamie using Josh for his connection to his famous father-in-law? Is Josh just being neurotic and resentful? When is a kiss more a kiss, a “meeting” more than a meeting? What do Jamie and Cornelia see in Josh and Darby that they can’t find in themselves?

Director Baumbach, whose critically acclaimed films include Frances Ha and The Squid and the Whale, has a very Woody Allen-ish way with his New York settings, characters and situations, coaxing out humor in the way Jamie and Cornelia are attracted to the lifestyles of their new friends—and the way their “old” friends react to them. Josh begins sporting a fedora and sockless dress shoes, like Jamie; Cornelia takes up hip-hop dance classes with Darby.

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Josh (Ben Stiller) begins dressing like his new friend Jamie (Adam Driver).

“We’re worried about you,” their friend Fletcher (Adam Horovitz, of the ’80s rap trio the Beastie Boys) tells them. “You’re an old man in a hat.”

The soundtrack’s mix of tunes from David Bowie, Paul McCartney and Wings, Vivaldi, Danny Kaye, the Psychedelic Furs and A Tribe Called Quest adds to the movie’s feel of a crisscrossing mash-up of generations.

In the second half, the plot strains to connect Josh’s principles about “truth” in documentary films to a major point about Jamie’s approach to moviemaking that doesn’t seem to be a such a big deal to anyone else, even in the big climatic showdown to which everything builds. The movie’s much better when it sticks to the “smaller” human comedy of people dealing with the foibles of growing up and growing older, finding out who they are and what they want out of life, and learning that every age—and every stage—has its joys as well as its jolts.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Blowin’ in the Wind

The Coens’ tragi-comic odyssey of broken dreams and bitter truths

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Inside Llewyn Davis

Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan & Justin Timberlake

Directed by Ethan & Joel Coen

R, 105 min.

“Hang me, oh, hang me,” sings Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) in the mesmerizing performance that opens filmmaking brothers Joel and Ethan Coens’ ode to the New York’s Greenwich Village folk music scene of the early 1960s. Llewyn (pronounced Loo-en) doesn’t just sing the song, he inhabits it, picking his guitar and spinning its tale of a weary traveler defeated by his own misdeeds, finally surrendering to the noose and the cold, cold ground.

The bleak song sets the stage for the story that’s about to unfold—like a folk song—as we spend a week in the life of Llewyn, a young journeyman singer walking the razor’s edge between the glow of success and the gloom of failure.

There have been many movies about music and musicians, but the Coens—among the most unconventional of commercially successful filmmakers—take a characteristically unconventional path here: Their protagonist is not very likeable, nor very sympathetic, and his messy, meandering story is a tragi-comic odyssey of broken dreams, bashed hopes and bitter truths.

But we feel for him nonetheless, and Inside Llewyn Davis is another Coen Brothers gem. While not as boisterously gonzo as The Big Lebowski, as fabulously tangled as Fargo or as much of a toe-tapping toot as O Brother, Where Art Thou, it’s still cool, clever, cynical and achingly funny, meticulously crafted and marvelously quirky. And you don’t know where it’s going until it gets there—which, as it turns out, is right back where it started.

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Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) and Jim (Justin Timberlake) rehearse in a recording studio.

The soundtrack is outstanding, a slate of mostly traditional folk chestnuts given respectful new spins by producer T Bone Burnett, some stellar backing musicians and the cast. Isaac, the relative unknown who plays Llewyn, is phenomenal, doing his own singing and guitar playing live (instead of overdubbing or performing to prerecorded tracks). Pop superstar Justin Timberlake, who plays another folk singer, Jim, does likewise, as does Carey Mulligan, who portrays Jim’s wife and musical partner, Jean.

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

John Goodman

There’s John Goodman, a Coen mainstay, cropping up as an overfed, overdosed jazz musician. There’s the tabby cat that Llewyn spends much of movie lugging around, trying to find, or catch. There’s the novelty tune that Llewyn records with Jim and another singer (Adam Driver) that becomes one of the movie’s humorous high points.

And there’s a certain other folk singer from Minnesota, the Coen’s home state, waiting in the wings to blow everything—and everyone else—away, in the wind. As Llewyn seems to know, the times they are indeed a-changin’.

Inside Llewyn Davis may not blow a lot of its competition away at the box office—like some other Coens’ fare, it could be a bit of an acquired taste. But for anyone who can feel its genuine grasp of its subjects, its music and its times in its deep, dig-it grooves, this cinematic sonnet to a struggling ’60s singer might just become a greatest hit.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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